Stephanie Williams and her boyfriend have been looking for their first home to buy.
They have been looking for almost eight months and have made two offers on the same house. But, they were turned down.
Stephanie said they’re still “cautiously” looking for a house but realize because of COVID-19, the Morgantown area residential market is stagnant. It will likely take longer than they want to find the right home for them and their two dogs.
“Before the pandemic, it seemed the market was finally coming to life,” said Stephanie, who is employed in the financial services industry and is working with a realtor.
“It was a long winter waiting on houses to list. Most of the houses we were interested in were pretty costly, overpriced honestly,” she said. “However, as more houses started to list, some of the places we had our eyes on started to slightly drop in price.
“Since the pandemic, it seems like the market has frozen. There are very few new listings, and little to no change in prices,” Stephanie said. “There’s some real fear of another housing market collapse and it’s evident in the market right now.”
Houses are still being listed and they’re still being sold albeit at a slightly slower pace than in previous years, local realtors have said.
Local market statistics provided by Melissa Berube, former president of the Morgantown Board of Realtors and broker of White Diamond Realty LLC, show COVID-19 has yet to have much of an impact on the local housing market.
Through the first three months of this year, 173 detached, single family homes were sold, up 8% from 160 sold during the first quarter of 2019. By comparison, 49 single-family, attached homes were sold in the area through March 31. This is an 18% decline from the 58 homes sold during the same period a year earlier.
The average sold price for a detached, single-family house during the first quarter was $307,203, compared with $309,206 for the same period a year earlier, Berube said. The average sold price or an attached, single-family home for the first three months this year was $188,230, a 5% decline from 2019 first quarter sold price of $198,838.
“The market is a bit different than last year, but all in all it hasn’t slowed by that much yet,” she said. “The real estate market responds to major external impacts far more slowly than the stock market does. Add to that, professionals are implementing safety precautions and procedures in order to keep people safe while continuing to provide essential housing services.”
Also, closings are still occurring from pre-COVID-19 contracts, she said.
“But other than that, people still have to move,” Berube said. “The hospitals are still hiring, students are graduating and new ones are coming in, families are still expanding and shrinking, so housing is still top of the mind.”
“We’ll have a better finger on the pulse as we move into May.”
Changing business procedures
Because the novel coronavirus is highly contagious, closing protocol has changed, said Steve Walker, broker at J.S. Walker Associates Realtors.
“Attorneys are encouraging that if a seller or buyer can sign documents prior to the closing and not physically attend, this is a preferred method,” Walker said. “All personnel who are not required to be present — real estate agents, family members, loan officers, etc. — are prohibited from attendance at the closing.”
If the buyer or seller both attend the closing, then separate rooms are used. All surfaces are wiped down before and after the closing and social distancing is used, Walker said.
“In addition, closing documents are being recorded remotely and disbursement checks to venders are being handled by the USPS,” he said.
Buyer habits have changed, too. If a buyer is interested in a home, then he will most likely view it online and not go on an in-person tour. Or, he may have his agent do a Skype, or FaceTime tour, said Walker, adding he has yet to encounter that request.
Also, if a buyer wants to physically tour a property, he is discouraged from touching any surface and should drive his own vehicle to the appointment and wear booties or shoe covers inside. Plus, bring hand sanitizer, Walker said.
Sellers, meanwhile, need to open all doors and closets before a showing and sanitize door knobs after each showing.
“Turn on any needed lights, lamps, light switches before the showing starts,” he said. “Keep windows and doors open, if possible, to let fresh air flow through the showing, In addition, setting up a sanitation station at the front door that would include Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer and booties is a procedure that is being encouraged.”
Interest rates on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage are 3.33%, according to mortgage lender Freddie Mac. This is slightly more than 3.29% last month, an historic low. At this point a year earlier, the interest rate on a 30-year note was 4.08%.
While there are predictions of double-digit unemployment because of the economic uncertainty generated by COVID-19, the economy will return to normal. It is a question of when, John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business & Economic Research
“First, we are in a period of enormous economic uncertainty,” he said. “Economic forecast figures for the first and second quarters for this year are all over the board. So it’s not a great time to be making economic projections. But, that said, I still remain optimistic that we will eventually get back to normal. The cause of this crisis is very well defined, much more so than in normal recessions. And there weren’t major underlying problems in our economy leading up to this recession, unlike other events like the 2008-2009 recession. So I think there is still good reason to believe that when this crisis ends that we will see a return to normal, and it may not even take that long. But I think that does depend on how long the shutdown lasts, and we still don’t know how long that will be.”
Stephanie Williams said she and her boyfriend are both working, but the future of the oil and gas industry — where her boyfriend works — will play a role in whether they buy a home.
“While it has been a bit frustrating, we are still hopeful that we can find our dream home eventually,” she said. “It’s just going to take a lot of patience on our part. We’re doing are best to stay positive and not get discouraged.”